Thursday, August 8, 2013

British Florida

by Lauren Gilbert

It’s hard to imagine Florida as a British colony.  It seems almost an impossibility.  Yet from 1763 to 1783, Florida was in fact a British colony.  And  it all started in Carolina...

The Spanish were in Florida as early as 1513 and built St. Augustine.  However in 1586, Queen Elizabeth’s loyal sailor (and pirate) Sir Francis Drake plundered St. Augustine and burned it to the ground. Of course the Spanish rebuilt and established further towns as missionaries converted indigenous people to Catholicism and settlers came.  

It is important to note that the Spanish had claimed Carolina, but abandoned the Carolina coast to focus on Florida in approximately 1587.   In 1670, the English established the colony of Carolina and built Charles Town.  However when South Carolina’s charter fixed the border of the colony south of St Augustine, it was inevitable that there would be trouble.  

Throughout the 17th century, English settlers in Virginia and Carolina pressed southwards into Georgia and Florida, while the French were pressing eastwards.   British plantations owners had their eyes on the lush lands available for the taking further south.  In 1677, the Apalachee Indians allied with the English.  Finally, things came somewhat to a head in 1702 when English Colonel James Moore and his Indian allies destroyed the town of St. Augustine.  However, they could not destroy the fort, Castillo de San Marcos.  Florida remained in Spanish hands.

In 1704, England’s Indian allies went into Florida and destroyed various mission towns.   Repeated British attacks finally resulted in the capture of St. Augustine in 1740.  Throughout this period, Spain offered freedom to slaves, servants and other runaways who came to Florida and converted to Catholicism.  The Spanish did not forbid the retrieval of a runaway slave; they simply would not assist in any way, nor would they pay any sort of remuneration for the loss of the slave.  Needless to say, the English colonists, particularly the plantation owners, were angered by this situation. 

Between 1754-1763, the Seven Years’ War occurred, which was arguably a world war in that it affected Europe, India, West Africa, the Philippines, and North and Central America due to conflicting trade and colonial goals.  As a result of this war, in 1762-63, Spain traded Florida to England in exchange for control of Havana, Cuba, which the British had captured during this conflict.  Almost the entire Spanish population left, taking a significant number of the indigenous people with them.  In 1763, in what became East Florida, the Kings Road was built to encourage trade and settlement.  The plantation system was brought to Florida during this period.

In Volusia County, for example, the lieutenant governor of Florida, John Moultrie, a planter from Carolina, experienced some success with indigo and sugar.  Other crops brought to Florida included rice, mulberry trees for silk and grapes for wine.  The British divided Florida into two colonies: East Florida with the capitol St. Augustine and West Florida with the capitol Pensacola.  Even the Keys were subject to continued negotiation: Spain tried to claim that the Keys (Cayos) were actually part of Cuba.  However, Britain pursued its claim with assistance from Bermuda and Bahama.

When the American colonies declared independence, Florida remained loyal to Great Britain; raids on the American south were launched from Florida.  Florida was a staging ground for English troops invading the southern colonies.  

In Nassau Co. Florida, a unit of the American troops under Col. John Baker attempted a raid in East Florida which resulted in a disastrous defeat and surrender to the British on May 17, 1777.  In 1779, the Spanish entered the fray as an ally of the French.  They took advantage of the situation and captured Pensacola from the British in 1781.  

In 1783, the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War.  As a result of the treaty, all of Florida was returned to Spain.  The English residents of Florida had not foreseen that possibility and were dismayed at the prospect of Spanish rule.  As a result, most returned finally to England.  Florida remained a Spanish possession until the signing of the Adams-Onis Treaty in 1819, when Spain ceded Florida to the United States effective 1821.

For more information, check out:
History of Florida.
“English Settlers A History of Florida.”  1904. EXPLORING FLORIDA. “Florida of the British”.

“Florida Becomes A State.”
A Comparative Timeline of General American History and Florida History, 1492 to 1823.”

Arnade, Charles.  “Florida Keys, English or Spanish in 1763?”
Illustration: 1763 Gibson Map of East and West Florida.  Wikimedia Commons:.
Lauren Gilbert is the author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel.  She lives in Florida with her husband, and is working on another novel which is coming out soon.Visit her website HERE:

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